Customer Service: How do you rate?

Sept. 1, 1999

Customer Service

How do you rate?

By Bill de Decker

September 1999

Bill de Decker is a Partner with Conklin & de Decker Associates, publishers of aircraft operating cost databases, MxManager® integrated maintenance management software, and consultants on cost analysis and fleet planning. He has over 35 years experience in fixed and rotary wing design, marketing, training, operation, and management. He also teaches a number of aviation management courses.

How well do you understand your customers? What do they need? What do they like about your organization and service? What don't they like? How much effort do you make to find the answers to these questions? The answers are important, because they will go a long way to explain the success, or lack of success of your organization.

Consider these two examples. The first is a mailing from the dealer who services my car. The car manufacturer conducts a regular survey to rate the quality of service performed by the dealers. The dealer wants to know "if there is any reason you would not answer Ôexcellent' to every question, please let our service manager know so we have an opportunity to resolve your concerns." This thriving dealership is clearly trying to get the answers they need to further improve their service and their business. The other example is the airline industry. Many airlines care so little about their customers that there is discussion in the U.S. Congress about establishing a "passenger bill of rights!" The airlines are doing well at present, but the very poor relationship between most airlines and their passengers will cost them dearly in the long run.

How does this relate to your organization? Simple. As the manager, it is up to you to get the answers to the questions we posed at the beginning of this column. There are three ways of achieving this goal:

Meet the customers and ask
Meet and greet the customers when they come to your facility to drop off their aircraft and when they come to pick it up. Have a cup of coffee with them. Take them out to lunch.

At some point during the meeting, ask them the questions. If your customers don't usually come to your facility, go visit them, or if you can't, call them on the phone. Usually, the answers you get will be the expected ones. But, every once in a while, you'll get an answer that indicates something went very right or something went very wrong. If something went very right, get the details and thank the employee(s) involved. If something went wrong, get the details and follow up. Two items to note here. First, don't be defensive with the customer. Simply thank them for letting you know, apologize if it seems appropriate and tell them you will investigate and get back to them in a specified amount of time. The second thing is to contact the customer within the specified time, report what you find, tell them the corrective action you are taking and propose the steps you would like to take to set things right for them.

The importance of this procedure cannot be over-emphasized. Remember, most customers recognize that an occasional mistake will occur. They become mad only if no one appears to care, or worse, ignores them after they have stated their complaint. In fact, when you look in detail at the mind-boggling punitive damage awards that are made so often in the courts, a unifying theme is that at first, the customer would have been willing to settle for an apology or some minor sum of money. They only brought in the lawyers when the company ignored repeated attempts to contact them and settle the matter amicably.

When you start doing this, you will be amazed at what you learn about your customers' likes and dislikes, your organization, and even your competitors. Some may think that you don't have the time. But I can assure you, based on personal experience that the rewards are worth it to make the time available.

Use questionnaires
One organization I worked for asked customers to complete a critique upon the conclusion of the work we did for them. It was a simple questionnaire that asked if we had provided the requested service on time and to the desired standard. It also asked if we had fallen short in any way and asked for suggested improvements. The questionnaire was addressed, with postage pre-paid, to the president of the company who read every single one. As site managers, we were rated not on how many "good" critiques we received. Instead, we were rated on the "bad" critiques and had to personally account for each unfavorable one. This included contacting the customer affected and working out a satisfactory solution!

Why focus on the unfavorable critiques instead of the good ones? After all, if 29 out of 100 responses rate your organization as excellent, 43 rate it as very good, and 25 rate it as good, you could say that 97 percent of your customers rated you as "good" or better. Frankly, there were probably significantly more than three who were not satisfied with the service. However, only three were blunt enough to say so. You cannot improve your organization by focusing on what you did right. You can only improve it by concentrating on what went wrong and fix it.

Lastly, of the 97 that rated your organization as "good" or better, only a few will mention the good service to their friends, but all three that were unsatisfied will tell anyone who will listen how poorly your organization served them. It's human nature, but it also means that you should do all you can to focus on their concerns. Experience shows that by acting decisively and constructively on your customers' dissatisfaction, you often can turn them into your biggest fans.

Talk to former customers
An interesting poster I saw in a book store pointed out that while customers stop using your services for a variety of reasons, typically about two-thirds do so because of the way they were treated by your organization!

You can't do anything about customers moving to other parts of the country or getting out of the aircraft business or switching to an aircraft you don't service. But, you can sure do something about the way your customers are treated by your organization. The first step is to establish a list of former customers. The next step is to contact them and ask them why they no longer use your organization. Usually, your ex-customers will give an honest answer. If the cause is a poor experience at your organization, get as many details as the customer is willing to give and then investigate internally what happened. As you investigate, remember the goal is not to see who can be blamed for losing the customer. Instead, the goal is to determine what went wrong, what must be done to fix it and try and get the customer to give you one more try.